Bulls in the Art Shop

A review of "Instensidad", an art and poetry exhibition at the Avenue 50 Studio

By Lui Sanchez
Published on LatinoLA: March 9, 2009

Bulls in the Art Shop

Enter the Avenue 50 Studio and the immediate painting encountered is a deliberate stare of a pregnant Chicana; a tough tattooed woman who dares you to see, acknowledge, and understand the power within her, within the gallery, if not within her community. Then suddenly, just as immediate, her dark eyes poised; she couldn't care less if you do.

This staunch deliberateness, whether it is mood, technique, or subject matter is the focus found in Intensidad.

Gallery Director, Kathy Gallegos curates art work by Elizabeth Perez, Barbara Carraso, J. Michael Walker, and John Valadez to spotlight the intensity of technique and vision of these artists. Gallegos also displays poems that are inspired by one of each artist's work. The poets: Peter J. Harris, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Abel Salas, and Rub?®n Funkahuatl Guevara radiate and sound the inspiration from the works.

The effect is a forceful dynamic between images and words. A look at the figurative and narrative works here reveal how the gallery builds on its tradition of presenting striking images of Los Angeles Chicano and other minority communities. The artists in Intensidad, moreover, demonstrate the passion and the necessity of these artists to stand on one's own in the larger art world community, if not for the social and political movements of their communities for whom they mirror. For the intensidad of these artworks is not the power they possess to draw you into them, but the power to be their own entity to look at you.

Elizabeth Perez's painting, Spider Madonna, is that pregnant Chicana that is first noticed. Her strength of character is revealed by Perez's command of delicate yet dense watercolor technique. This female portrait, (as in her other female portrait in the show, Girl with Vanilla Coke) comes alive with posture and hesitation, grit and longing; opposing qualities for any true characterization. Perez revels in the spirit of her subject's inner and outer life. With fine and controlled detailed tattoos on washes of flesh, Perez illustrates the woman's outwardly vigorous appearance. Her inner life is also true to form as the Chicana's stature and composition is solidly brushed by Perez's weighted shapes of reds and blacks that pronounce the expectant birth. Poet Peter J. Harris mirrors this birth as his poetry contemplates the mortal coalescence just in and out of her womb. He captures the visceral potential, the "relentless radiation," the "esoteric passion" of birth, but it is Perez that captures the heart and soul of this human portrait. In Self Made, Perez's male portrait in the show, her working, however, falls just a bit flat; his composition is not as keenly figured; his gaze not as grounded. Nonetheless, Self Made is clearly the self made by Perez as she continues her growth and development of her art form. One looks forward to more of Perez's watercolors as the burgeoning power is indicated well within the womb of the unapologetic Spider Madonna.

Between Perez's female and male portraits on the gallery's east wall, hang a collection of small paintings like glowing jewels on a cave wall. These jewels belong to Barbara Carrasco and their minute exploration of womanhood and self-portraiture powerfully illuminate their presence throughout the gallery. Eleven paintings, averaging four inches square, contrast various combinations of mediums: ink, acrylic, watercolor; on canvas, clay, paper; to facet attitudes on emotions, states of being, or interactions. Carrasco's works exact their meaning from her controlled lines and shapes. She maximizes the miniature and insures that her art is more than "what you see is what you get," but what she feels. This specificity is matched by Gloria Enedine Alvarez's poem Tongueplay as she provides an excellent sounding board to Carrasco's Tongue Play painting. Alvarez's two to four word lines reveal knowingly with "accusatory pleasure" the tips of the tongues of the two characters that are no doubt darting about in Carrasco's tongue play kiss. The women and Carrasco in these paintings love, ponder, scream, and shout as she focuses their and her awareness through scale. The exhibition, however, could further maximize their effectiveness. Like jewels they are all too preciously gathered together in this installation and could serve to be strewn throughout the gallery for better breathing space and focus of reading. They are the curios in the china shop emanating power in their pointed smallness. The one's you would move delicately about, quietly observing, as they would boldly stamp (stomp) next to larger works. Carrasco's paintings are the ones that give us the pause of steadfast proclamation that women, especially Chicanas, continue to unleash their power in all ways big and small.

The largest and only work by J. Michael Walker in Intensidad is Lady Lynda. Gallegos curates Walker's recent work for his intensity of detail. He uses color pencils to draw expansively and methodically a nude portrait of honest and regal beauty. His subject is an older woman with visible lameness sitting on a chair, holding her cane like a scepter. She is made live by Walker's precise, smooth, yet emphatic pencil strokes and shading. Her sly sturdy smile complements her gaze as she looks out at you, and like the Chicana in Spider Madonna, continues peering indifferently past you, completely self-aware and comfortable in her naked depiction. This fine work is further remarked by poet Abel Salas in Cada Lapiz de Color. Salas muses on the artist's technique as a narrative within itself than brings forth a truth that soon becomes the painting. The truth of the human form in Walker's painting is indeed apparent, however, a more personal truth is equally hidden. Walker surrounds his beauty in a billowing golden yellow cloud that adds to the painting's expansiveness. Yet the cloud and the nude remain separate and one looks for a connection between these two visual masses. Walker's realism ultimately preserves a certain disconnect here as the cloud no more envelopes his subject than his subject gathers us to sit with her. His controlled power betrays his passionate artistry and Walker does have passion. It is suggested within that majestic billowing cloud that the nude sits as a sentry before it. Walker's previous work in All the Saints of Los Angeles provided wonderful presentational works of art that were forthright in their clear depiction of their narrative subject. Lady Lynda, however, is appropriately much less story and more naked disclosure. Walker now has the vehicle to truly resonate not only the beauty of the aged and naked, but also to resonate and reveal further his artist soul. Lady Lynda with her stoic smile and posture sets Walker's new stage and we must wait to see what hidden power lies within the golden mist that he has conjured. For Walker's continued intensity of detail in his nude works will no doubt answer how his beautiful made flesh speaks for the artist.

The remaining artist featured in Gallegos's pentad of power is John Valadez. Long known for multi-layered detail in picture perfect works, Valadez is one whose use of narrative drives the passion of his works. The four artworks in this exhibition continue his signature narrative tradition by focusing on the matador, the Spanish emblem of male finesse and power. Valadez flourishes his matador paintings in an opalescent palette of pinks, turquoises, reds, and oranges that mesh allegories of reverie, death, conflict and virility. His narratives tell well with visual elements that speak with the right amount of declaration of theme yet edged with ambiguity to allow for rich interpretation. The poet Rub?®n Funkahuatl Guevara takes heed on this and compassionately launches a verse on one of Valadez's multi-dimensional works: the Muertadores Baile (Dance of the Dead Matadors). Guevara creates Traje de Luces/Suit of Light, a "corrida de luz" that strides heartily upon the canvas in honor to the defiled women of Juarez. Further discussion as varied as spirituality, impotence, longing, and homoeroticism can also be held on Muertadores Baile. This allegorical resonance that is found in all of Valadez's work demonstrates his masterful control of technique and passion that allow his works to breathe vividly on their own.

It is then fitting that Valadez's Sue??os Del Toros (The Dream of Bulls) (pictured detail) ends the exhibition. Here, Valadez suggests a raging bull with passionate strokes that reveal a head and horns shaking and bucking in a powerful rem of provoking human appendages. Instinctively the bull, even in his dreams, plows through the muleta, the red cape, to fulfill his power, his intensity that is his life: death notwithstanding. This determination is the nature of the artists in Intensidad. They have a job to do; their passion necessitates it; their detailed technique reveals it. As the matador in Payaso Matador, Valadez with his compadres y comadres will stand steadfast the significance of Chicano art presence against the crashing ocean of art world hierarchies and cultural exploitation. They have stories to show and characters to illustrate and these artists will not wait to be viewed and listened; they will stampede onward creating a necessary artistic havoc through the thoughtful shops of art. It is then best to lock onto Perez's watercolor tattooed arms-like-horns, look into the eye of the bull that are Carrasco's works, breathe in the forceful cloud hoofed up by Walker's penciled work, or wear stately the bullying skin as tightly and vibrantly as the matador's traje de luces, for these bulls race ahead the intensidad of contemporary Chicano art and we would be lucky to grab their tails in reward.

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